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Commonwealth and the Haudenosaunee: Give Thanks and Care For All

Last Pentecost: Reign of Christ

26 Nov 2023

 




Before I begin illuminating Matthew’s wisdom, I wish to take a moment to remember that this is Native American Heritage month and that just two days ago we celebrated a holiday with some unwelcome historical baggage: Thanksgiving.

The first people of the place where we now dwell were the Baxoje, or people of the gray snow. They lived in a society where cooperative governance was the foundation for their existence. The Boxoje, or the Ioway, practiced a form of government where there were no fat sheep crowding the thin ones; everyone had their work and decisions were made more by consensus.  No one was above anyone else.  Their governance does, in many ways, mirror what Ezekial, Paul, and Jesus all have to say about the Commonwealth of God

The Haudenosaunee, better known to us as the Iroquois Confederency, have a prayer or invocation that is recited before any meeting or event.  It is called the Thanksgiving Address[1] and both recognizes and gives thanks to the world in which we live and its creator. Here is a portion of the prayer:


Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty and responsibility to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give our greetings and our thanks to one another as people.


Now our minds are one.


 We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our mother, we send our greetings and our thanks.


Now our minds are one.


Now we turn our thoughts to the Creator, Shonkwaia’tîson, and send our greetings and our thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on this Mother Earth. For all the love that is around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the Creator.


Now our minds are one.

We now end our journey with Matthew, a gospel concerned with the way God’s people should live and how Torah and the prophets are to be fulfilled. Matthew guides us in how we are to live NOW and when we see the face of God we will have done God’s will in the way we treat one another and, I daresay, the very world in which we live. This is and will be the Commonwealth, the Reign, of Christ.

Pop quizzes may be a novel way to start a homily but given this is the end of the liturgical year, it is time to test your knowledge. 

Here is the quiz: which four United States are known as commonwealths?  I named three out of four, a tribute to my junior high school social science teachers.

The states are Massachusetts, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky. Notice that all became states before 1793. It speaks to the notions of the time as to what the function of a state, or a nation, should be.

Take the term itself: common means public, or all the people, and wealth comes from the term well-being, not money.  Commonwealths exist for the welfare of all the people. At least they should. We know the hard reality that nations who placed emphasis on common well being are a scarce commodity, at least as Ezekial proclaims it. He would perhaps have looked askance at the concept of a government by the people, a democracy, but not at the concept of care for all citizens, especially the most vulnerable.

We are not all the same, thanks be to God, but no one is above anyone else.

Most of us think vertically.  There must be those on top and those on the bottom; life is a zero net sum and for me to have someone must not have.  Or, to paraphrase George Orwell in Animal Farm, some animals are more equal than others. The fat sheep versus the skinny ones.

We don’t really want the Commonwealth of Christ.  We never have.  Me included.  The Commonwealth of God is far too horizontal, far too radical, for most of our tastes.  Ezekial tells us why things went south for Israel: they made a complete mess of social justice.  Jesus hands us a metaphor or allegory: we behaved like goats when we really needed to behave like sheep. From the beatitudes to the final reckoning, the message is clear and it did not change one bit.  Blessed are the poor, those in prison, those who suffer for any reason and blessed are those who see the need and respond.

What if we had a nation where everyone had sufficient food and shelter?  Where violence against one another was virtually unknown?  Where people fleeing injustice and poverty were welcomed?  Where the wealthy simply weren’t wealthy because they either did not accumulate wealth or gave it away to those who needed it?  Where the earth mattered?  

Jesus says this is what God wants and that it is not only possible, but it is demanded of us.  Paul pleads with us to understand and live into the hope to which we are called. As the First Nation’s translation says,” I am asking him to shine his light into your hearts so you can clearly see the hope he has chosen for us….”[2]

So let us be that shining light, that beacon of hope.  Let us proclaim the Commonwealth, the Reign, of Christ, in our actions, not only towards one another, but to all of creation.  As the psalmist says, everything from the depths of the earth to the highest mountain are God’s, and all the ocean and the dry land.

We are, indeed, the sheep of his hand.

 


[2] P. 351  First Nations Version, InterVarsity Press, Downer’s Grove IL 2021.

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